Follow the flyfisher for an interesting testimony by Dayna Gross for the use of illustration as a tool for both internal and external communication, and therefore a classic management tool.
Amidst all the talk about open communication in scientific publishing, it’s refreshing to see a production blog following a scientific documentary. Highlights include water simulation tests and Hannah Foss’ account of the tropical copepod that snuck its way into the teams modeling workflow.
Illu art has a great write up of John Cuneo‘s wonderful and biting editorial work, highlighting the above depiction of a rhinoceros poacher. I feel there’s a great need for artists to step up to the bat when it comes to transporting understanding of our role in nature and an outrage about abuses – be it stolen fossils, overfished oceans, finning or any of the unfortunately much too long list of greed-based abuses of a sustainable use of natural resources. In light of the tragicomically perverse reason – the myth of sexually potency – behind the market for rhinoceros horn, this illustration is, if anything, too meek.
For those of you in Berlin (I assume this will be in German)
Prof. Dr. M. Schudack (FU Berlin, Inst. für geolog. Wissenschaften, Paläontologie)
Paläoökologische und paläoklimatische Untersuchungen in der Morrison-
Formation (Oberjura der USA) mit Hilfe von Ostracoden und Charophyten.
19.00 Uhr, Treffpunkt Portal 5 am Naturkundemuseum
Sorry for the quality of this graphic. I shot it on a living room safari, so to speak… from my television. I took it excitedly, the echoes of an online discussion about Mark Witton‘s Quetzalcoatlus illustration at TetZoo. The man at the left is pretty much the same distance from the camera as the giraffe’s head (confirmed from other snapshots), and the show said that juveniles had to be tranquilized and re-located. So, this is a sub-adult – and it’s head is already twice the volume of a human’s. Will keep an eye out for other human/giraffe head pairings, but Mark’s point seems proven. Huge.
I wish I knew anatomy as well as Mauricio Antón, but I don’t. Apparently, neither does National Geographic – a source of information that I would like to think of as knowing things I don’t. Alas… in an illustration specifically about the skeletal anatomy of the cheetah, they manage no less than 4 fairly major errors. The erosion of media authority continues. Mauricio Antón is the goto guy… clikc the cheetah.
Palaeo-electronica has a great paper by Richard Ellis and Stephen Gatesy analyzing substrate dynamics that I’m excited about even though I haven’t read a word. I’ve just looked at the pictures. And they tell a decent amount of the story – that’s exciting. They don’t communicate a quantitative analysis of the shifts and bulges of the substrate, but they do show that this is the focus of the paper – the beads in the sand communicate that quite well. It’s a great case for inreach due to the subject matter and the visual documentation.
Interestingly, the videos read worse than the images, the lack of depth cues make it very difficult to understand what’s going on in the xray video, and the rotating camera is a classic case of overlapping animation – making it very difficult to even follow what’s going on around the foot. No matter, the photos are great, and the illustration of the tracked bead paths show motion better than the videos… again, just lacking depth cues. It’s also a fantastically interesting subject matter. I’m off to read it!
Last year I took a stab at illustrating an elephant’s foot. It wasn’t any old elephant’s foot, it was the object of John Hutchinson’s study on biomechanics, something which is fantastically interesting not just for its implications for illustrating other gigantic land animals but also in exploring the role of the artist in illustrating scientific research and in the role of the illustration itself. Over the course of the year, ideas I’d been developing congealed in this unfinished work. It was, so to speak, one small step for an elephant but one huge step for me as a novice in this field.
The research – which can be accessed here - is well illustrated, assuming the goal is to discuss comparative anatomy (the evolutionary development of the features) or morphology. The question I picked out of a blog post from Johns’ freezer, though, was the unique biomechanic model that elephants represent… they walk digitigrade (on their toes), but not quite. Due to a spongy foot pad, they could be argued to walk plantigrade (on the flats of their feet). I can only describe it as walking on silicone-cushioned high-heels. That’s cool. How do you illustrate that?
I contacted John to ask for materials to take a stab at it and came up with the above animation. Its a w.i.p and not fully successful but it does get the concept across. Weight loading is represented by a red arrow, extreme positions are ghosted in as the foot approaches the alternative extreme, and there’s a big silicon cushion which is possibly completely wrong. I created a linear morph between the relaxed and loaded states using John’s 3D scans and added an outline of the foot to place the bones in context. Visually, these things are all important to focus on the question I’d singled out.
What I find interesting in this exploration is 1) the potential for media artists to collaborate with scientists beyond lush life reconstructions of the latest, greatest dinosaur and 2) existing technical possibilities and their potential to make complex scientific questions accessible.
Artists have an ingrained compass for eye-catching, cutting-edge imagery. It helps get your name out, acquire jobs and feel good about yourself. I want to do some myself, and will – I promise. But wait – I already am. The human perception system is triggered to spot movement, and I’m an animator – both in the sense that I animate and that I make films with a story. For me, that squishy elephant slipper is eye-catching, cutting edge coolness.
Not all artists will be drawn to such work, and not all will have the familiarity with digital toolsets to be able to do so. But there are lots that have the potential and talent to do so. Wouldn’t it be great to see fan-art explanations being meta-tagged to research papers?
The crux of all this is that we are on the verge of large changes in the application of media on the functioning and sharing of science. What will OpenSource mean to artists? We can read the papers, contact the scientists, collaborate with journalists. What will animation technologies from games and film mean to science? Scientists are using digital imaging techniques that create incredible imagery practically as a by-product of their research. How can this wealth of material be employed in communication?
people want to learn
They big take-home message from the Senckenberg convention last June, proffered by museum director Dr. Mosbrugger, is that people want to learn. There’s an authentic interest in the world around us. If it’s accessible, people will listen, explore, even participate. And visual communication – illustrations, videos, etc – makes content more accessible, as can be ascertained by click rate comparisons of articles with and without an embedded image.
The logical consequence is that science communication is being complemented by a new possibility. Next to classical outreach – where the science-endowed prepares materials specifically for a non-scientifically endowed audience – there is a new option: inreach. This is where scientists do what they do – science. And the preparation of their communication materials is made accessible to a scientifically interested audience, who at as multipliers for an even larger group. Imagery plays a crucial role, but I’m not thinking of the simple jpg. I’m thinking of an integrated publishing system that allows quicker access to terminology via hyperlinks and interactive manipulation of the scientific content.
Imagine John’s foot (okay, not his but the elephant Betsy) being interactive. The reader can scrub the amount of pressure, controlling the amount of squish. The document could recognize that I’m reading the text passage about the prepollex and the illustration would rotate to offer a good view of this highlighted bone. Aha – that’s the prepollex. Aha, that’s a sagittal view. Hey, this paper isn’t that hard to follow after all. The summary could be an choreographed animation with additional imagery and videos accompanied by the voice of the scientist or a press agent. A youtube-ripe presentation, ready for hyperlinking.
Expensive, you say? I would argue that it’s not only inevitable, but likely cheaper in the long run, once the options for re-use through a chain of media outlets and museum presentations (both in-house and in the internet) are worked out. It’s inevitable, because the kids visiting the museum will already be up-to-date on the latest science blogs. They’ll know that Deinonychus is feathered or wrong, and they’ll demand that their museum keeps up with the pace, lest these bastions of scientific authority go the way of the television documentary, being buried in dust instead of sensationalism.
I’ll be adding more in the future, including cases where I see this shift to inreach successfully happening and my frustration with existing technical possibilities such as Unity3D in specifically addressing a publishing-embedded interactive 3D. Hopefully, I’ll get your thoughts as well…
If you ask me if there is any discovery that has changed the way we live? It is quantum mechanics. And I make this point because … today people say “Why are we spending money up there? We got problems down here!” People don’t connect the time delay between scientific research and how you’re going to live your life later on down the line. All they want is a quarterly report and and a product that comes out of it. That is so short-sighted that that’s the beginning of the end of your culture.
Fantastic animation by Richard Hogg for the Royal Observatory Greenwich explaining how we know how far we are from various things in the universe.
Once again, it’s time for me to gush about Creature Cast, as I have done in the past and will certainly do again. They’re that good. This time, Henry Astley talks about brittle star locomotion. The video is so successful because it posits a clearly formulated question and answers it just as clearly. No more, no less. It’s also colorful and vibrant – in service of the question at hand. Very well done!
Go HERE for the video (embedding disabled).
Okay… I’m an animator. I love this shit. Look at those lines, the anticipation, follow-through, the timing. Gorgeous. Just… The idea of evolution shown here embodies pretty much every misconception, every perpetuated falsity that it… is repulsive.
The wrongs? Evolution as a linear process from A to B to C – with a dinosaur turning into a mammal. Adaptations driven by a white, male hand which mysteriously appears to give that decisive push into the next stage of development, even occasionally threaten man with the loss of his manhood or toss him into an all-encompassing flood.
Such wonderful line work deserves more attention to content, and throws me completely out of the zone. Am I simply not the target audience (despite my impressive collection of drawing utensils?)? Am I being unduly picky? Have I crossed the line from animator to science communicator? Feedback welcome.
The default reaction of journalists is “we want to explain why dinosaurs are an evolutionary failure”, and you can tell them again and again that we should consider, according to the current score, dinosaurs as the most successful dominators of terrestrial ecosystems.
Required reading: marcus-clauss-explains-codron-et-al-2012
The English film subtitle “Band of Scientists” gets an American work-over into “Band of Misfits”. What’s the difference?
There are of course various theories doing the rounds. One suggests that the animator is a “national treasure” here in the UK, is known for its [very British] eccentricity and therefore we are more tolerant of its whims…and seemingly its film titles. Sounds reasonable. Another theory suggests that the film title was dropped in the US because the film makers did not want to risk offending – and, presumably not selling tickets to – the considerable proportion of the US population who do not accept the theory of evolution. After all, Charles Darwin is the grand daddy of evolution. Again, plausible if hardly enlightened. However, I believe there is a more simple explanation: what is fixed, and problematic, is that word “scientist”.
Waves of open access, digitizing and outreach are spreading throughout the internet. One needn’t be clairvoyant to see where it’s headed. Following Emma Sherratt’s comment on Heinrich’s coverage of her work, I found this video presentation by Russell Garwood and feel it deserves a plug.
For me, these fascinating 3D scans raise the issue of what can and should a 3d artist such as myself be creating.
In the current turmoil of open-access research, participatory science and open-source science, the idea that successfully infecting a wider public with the passion for science might be a irksome bother comes across as somewhat blasphemous. But the reality is that fielding uninformed opinion is, has been and will continue to be a major issue… as Dave Hone writes.
It will be interesting to see how the interest that is roused can be technologically fielded. Sites offering one-to-one exchange such as askabiologist and all the blogging activity is already a major advancement, but I anticipate that communities – particularly those like dinotoys and artEvolved without a primarily scientific motivation – will grow to cover such functionality… informing layman questions and also fielding this interest.